Track by Track: Sophia Saze – Self (Part One)
Georgian-born producer Sophia Saze was born to political refugee parents in Tbilisi, which in turn saw her live in various different places before settling in New York. Her nomadic lifestyle had previously made it difficult for her to find her own musical identity, but this move saw her become a key figure in the city's nightlife scene, and she found her calling within the realms of electronic music.
Her two-part LP Self on Francis Harris' Kingdoms imprint is a reflection on her life; the struggles and the pain. The first part looks back on her childhood and sees her move away from her usual sound; instead of tracks geared towards the dance floor this is an introspective concept album, a personal story that uses field recordings, samples from old soviet TV programmes and family VHS recordings. Here, Sophia guides us through the first part of the album track by track…
There are 30+ pieces to 'Self'. Each element is absolutely intentional. The idea was to create an open sonic diary walking listeners through a series of memories from various periods of my life, with each chapter speaking to a different aspect of the theme, belonging, and duality in identity. I'm only going to speak about the first part. Part 2 is out July. Part 1 is about my earlier years, childhood, and the second as an adult.
I wanted the intro song to set a certain mood for the rest of the record. Salome has a field recording of me walking through the rain on easter in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. You can hear the church bells ringing along with Ricardo Rivera's vocals howling into the moon in the background. I used to reminisce a lot over long walks in New York. This song reflects those bits. The footsteps accelerate rushing into a recording of me using my keys to open my front door, and as it shuts behind me, a sense of relief. This is all symbolic of those night time walks and overwhelming thoughts. The title of this song is very personal to me. Salome was actually my first name for a short period of time. Again, duality, and reinforcing the idea that we may all possess a hidden story that often isn't shown on surface.
I would come home to my studio and spend hours on the piano ridding myself of the suffocating thoughts described in the first song. The transitions in each song are important to note as they usher in a different memory. Bare is meant to translate my sense of nakedness as you hear me play the notes reflecting my most innermost feelings. The keys were all recorded improv with my iPhone and you can actually hear me semi crying in one part, I chose to keep everything as was originally captured.
Tsminda is the first memory of my childhood in Georgia. The word means 'pure' in Georgian. I sampled folk polyphonic vocals with a sharp tremolo so it cuts into the pockets of the groove in a warm way, along with my own vocals slithering around the center which are saying 'I crashed and cried into your arms'. This piece really captures the sonic essence of my feelings towards my formative earlier years. Georgian polyphonic music is a secular tradition and there are three types. Most of my family is from the south, and each part of the country has different styles of singing.
I inserted a few interludes in between the songs to break up the intensity of the overall piece as it's quite emotionally loaded. This one is a sample of a cab driver in New York, I remember he was playing a video of a pianist from Pakistan. I really love collecting people's voices candid, and we can't bring back the past but sonic traces may be the closest things we have to feeling moments again. I was having a rough day and he had this very endearingly innocent excitement in his voice. I have many hard drives of field recordings from over the years, definitely my favorite past time.
This song starts with me singing, 'My Heart Wasn't Meant'. The term being a monologue of me howling at the moon feeling disconnected from everything. I'm obsessed with that sound from my Roland System 8. The modulating wind howl type pad. I chopped out a lot of the vocal endings to allow the instrumentals to dictate the rest of the meaning. I'm very fond of my relationship with Ricardo. Both of us were going through a difficult time in our lives in regards to our respective mothers and we connected very sincerely on that level. There's a part of him saying, 'She shielded me from her pain'. The ending has this evolving strings crescendo which really describes the heated nature of how extremely we were both hurting.
I truly aimed to have a more dynamic presentation of soundscapes for the album vs a direct track to track interpretation for my first album. I write a lot of poetry in my downtime and decided to show this side of myself. The whole record was written in a 48 hour spurt so the words are straight from the mind, no filter. I didn't want to think too much but rather, let my thoughts translate musically. The concept behind 'Flower' is existentially questioning the moving blocks of life and permanence. I remember physically feeling a bit dizzy while improvising the notes and decided to keep the swing of the detuned keys along with the vocals to reflect that moment. It's me saying 'What is a flower, if it frowns and dies, white lies, when everything fades'.
One of my biggest influences is Boards Of Canada. I was revisiting a lot of their music before diving into writing this record. This song is about the way life circulates into an endless rabbit hole or infinite orbit. The background sounds are from a VHS recording of my mother laughing with my nieces and the sounds of dishes clashing in the kitchen, striking heartfelt memories of her taking care of me and my family.
There's a cartoon from Russia, Nu Pogodi. Volk means wolf in Russian. Everyone who grew up in the soviet union knows this cartoon, but it's essentially another take on Tom & Jerry. This interlude is a sample from one of the episodes, followed by samples of commercials in different languages to feel like a TV flickering through different channels or in this case, memories, ending with a voiceover of the subway attendant on the train in New York. I used to really analyze passengers on subways in the city, I always felt this sense of vapidness or loneliness for some reason. I really feel that big cities are depressing and desensitizing. I was never at peace there.
Writing this record happened to occur at one of the roughest points in my life, my mother was dealing with a medical condition and it completely de-centered me. I started going out a lot and sleeping less, I ended up sick one night at an after party. I was sitting on the stairwell in tears and a friend was consoling me. The recording is his own mother calling me and explaining in Spanish, 'She'll be ok, God is watching'. I'm not a religious person but her voice triggered a powerful emotion, hence the arpeggiated bass layer slithering under her voice to symbolize a fresh awakening. I speak five languages and wanted each one to come across throughout the LP. Spanish has a prominent place in my life, I'm able to express myself in honest ways.
Torn is about feeling split, or conflicted on decisions. The bass was recorded from a previous session for another project and I stretched the file to warp it around the vocals which are passing through a vibrato fx along with the off-key piano notes. Ricardo nailed the vocals here, he came into my studio once the instrumentals had all been recorded and just suddenly started making these animalistic like sounds. It's incredible how he was able to morph into whatever the idea being presented was. I would explain the story and he was able to translate the emotion immediately. I love bizarre mic recording techniques and blending this with unique singing styles also. Mongolian throat singing for example, I think is so luscious and interesting.
Safe is about finding solace. Ironically enough it comes after Torn, I guess a refreshing snap-back to hope. My parents were political refugees which meant we were displaced a lot and sadly often, in dangerous circumstances. I remember those moments vividly, feeling helpless as a child unable to protect myself or my parents. The vocal sample has this desperate resonance to it along with the modulated arp.
Kera is an ancient word in Georgian. There's no direct translation but the closest thing would be a mix of roots and tribe. The piece starts off with a recording of my dad's voice call on the brink of a very sad time in both of our lives. I wasn't sure if we'd ever see each other again, my entire world was flipped upside down that day. The phone call cuts off and drops into recordings of our family on Easter. For some reason, Easter was always a cleansing and spiritual time in my life. It just happened to always pan out that way every year. My sisters laughing in the background, and the piano stabbing directly into the groove. I love the ringing bass around the drums. The original version of this song was completely different, definitely more indie. This is one of a few songs on the album which used a rough layout from an older project. As that 48 hour improv session was unfolding, I would remember previous ideas and start pulling from old projects. I have multiple drives of unfinished projects and tracks.
It's fascinating how life uncoils a series of subliminal messaging for us to either acknowledge or not. A few days after that 48 hour jam and foundation for the album was written, I was on the subway and this homeless man started preaching to me. That's not uncommon of course, but what was coming out of his mouth was. At some point, he was reciting 'The Man In The Glass' by Peter Dale Wimbrow Senior. It was touching somehow and whipped out my phone to record his voice. I guess his words fell deeply because of the timing that this was all happening. I had just written a record about identity and suddenly there was a stranger reiterating my thoughts.
When you get what you want in your struggle for self
And the world makes you king for a day
Just go to the mirror and look at yourself
And see what that man has to say.
You may fool the whole world down the pathway of years
And get pats on the back as you pass
But your final reward will be heartache and tears
If you’ve cheated the man in the glass.
Alien feels like a familiar term. Politically speaking my family was actually called that word being immigrants for so many years. Later of course, feeling foreign became a natural part of my existence. For this piece, I used my Korg MS-20. I really like the spaced out acid sounds which set an eery tone and serve as a perfect ending piece for the first part. I added the church like pads as well to portray a sense of nostalgia.